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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Can infidelity in a romance book ever be justified?


In a fascinating post on the Romance Bandits blog last week Eloisa James commented on readers’ dislike of infidelity in historical romance and put up a great defence of why adultery need not be a deal-breaker. Hot on the heels of this came a review of my own book, The Confessions of A Duchess, which mentioned the fact that Dexter and Laura had committed adultery because when they first slept together four years before, Laura was still married to Charles.

This made me think very hard because as a reader I don’t tend to like infidelity in stories myself. I shy away from them on instinct. Perhaps I’m missing some great books! And yet I went and knowingly placed this element in The Confessions of a Duchess, and I was surprised when someone didn’t like it. Inconsistent, huh?!

Those people who have read Unmasked will know that Laura and Dexter were very attracted to one another from the start and that she steals a kiss from him in the persona of Glory the highwaywoman. From there it is a brief but extremely passionate step for her to turn to Dexter after her husband betrays and deserts her and she feels utterly alone and in despair.

Laura makes a free choice to sleep with Dexter but she sees it as a mistake the next day and the repercussions of her behaviour last for years and have a profound effect on her life and her character. I don’t feel that she either acts lightly or "gets away with it" and I do believe that her experiences make her the person she is.

Speaking of her book, This Duchess of Mine, on the Romance Bandits blog, Eloisa James said:

“I gave Elijah and Jemma reasons for the mishaps in their early marriage. There’s one thing we sometimes forget as romance writers, perhaps because we often stop at the vows. Marriage is hard. Elijah and Jemma forge their love for each other by truly coming to know each other. They win back what they lost by honesty, love and forgiveness (and OK, the great sex doesn’t hurt either).”

It sounds like a fabulous, passionate and emotional read and I’ll be picking it up!

Is it a case that context and character is everything or are there some elements that simply have no place in a romance, adultery being one of them? I’d like to believe the first. I would like to think that a character can be flawed and that they will have more depth through the choices they make and the way that they deal with their mistakes. But as readers and writers we all have different views on this. Are there any story ideas that are taboo, that go against the “rules”? Or can a good author make anything work and any character sympathetic?

6 comments:

Keira Soleore said...

Every time I have a firmly held opinion, and say "never," then that is the very first thing that gets turned on its head. Last month, I was busily touting that infidelity for me would be a deal-breaker. Then last week, I read Sherry Thomaa's Not Quite a Husband and my mind was changed. It's how the author deals with it.

Jan Jones said...

I think, as a reader, once I love the heroine I can sympathise and agree with anything she does. It does depend, of course, on the writer having got her character nailed down so that whatever she does makes perfect sense.

Alison said...

I admit that I would shy away from reading a story with infidelity, but I suppose it's true to say it's how well written the story is.

Kate Hardy said...

Definitely depends on the character and the conflict.

In Laura's case, I think I'd be happy to condone her visiting the local pharmacist and putting arsenic in Charles's mulled wine, let alone the chance of finding real love from someone who cares about her.

I also think it's probably easier for the reader to sympathise in a historical, when divorce was practically impossible and women were trapped in appalling situations. (God bless Lady Caroline Norton for having the courage to speak out - I'd love to write her bio.)

In a contemporary, for me as a reader there would have to be a good reason for ending the marriage and THEN moving on with someone else.

Nicola Cornick said...

I totally agree, Keira. I'm looking forward to the Eloisa James book and Christine Wells's book Wicked Little Game next month, because although I would say I don't generally like infidelity in a romance I like and trust those authors enough to want to try the books. Yes, I'm with all those who say that it's down to the conflict and the way the author portrays the characters. And laughing here, Kate, at the thought of Laura slipping arsenic into Charles's mulled wine!

Tess said...

I think that if an author is skilled enough, she/he can make pretty much anything work. Your scenario with adultery sounds entirely plausible. As does Eloisa's.

I still remember how Jo B incorporated several elements (including adultery) likely considered taboo into The Shattered Rose and made it work extraordinarily well. Even 14 years after reading that book, some of those scenes are crystal clear in my mind.

Love the trailer for Confessions... will definitely keep an eye out for it!!